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Remy Holwick is a Brooklyn-based photographer whose work explores the intersection of art, documentary, and fashion, with a particular interest in fringe feminine populations worldwide. It makes sense then that her photography wasn't what we ended up talking about about.
Instead, she wanted to talked about women's voices in her community. Remy Holwick runs a powerful group of 3,000 women that you’ve never heard of. GRLCVLT is a Facebook group that you can’t join, message, or find. As Holwick explains, “The group just appears on your Facebook feed one day.”
Women induct other women after a nomination process, and new inductees don’t even know that they’ve been accepted to until it happens. There, members are able to find solidarity and support in their community. They often find friendships that spill over in to the real world.
Now, GRLCVLT is sponsoring its first IRL event, but this is definitely something they want everyone to know about.
As a moderator, Holwick spends a significant amount of time on her computer. One evening, she came upon the news of Brock Turner, the recently convicted rapist of Stanford's Palo Alto campus, who was given the shockingly lenient sentence of 6 months for his crime. Much of the ire on her feed was directed at Judge Aaron Persky, who delivered the sentence. Many were attempting to rally a campaign against the judge, and demanded that Persky be unseated.
Holwick says, “Everyone is so depressed I’m so sick of it...I thought, I’ll get out of bed and write a letter. I said [on GRLCVLT], ‘If I get 10 people interested in writing letters I’ll throw a party.’”
Another GRLCVLT member who works as a publicist saw Holwick’s post, and within two hours they had a venue. FUCK RAPE CULTURE is now a national event tonight from 7-10 p.m. at Holyrad Studio in Brooklyn, at Starline Social Club in Oakland. There's also an event in Sydney tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Courtyard Cafe, and in L.A. at 9 p.m. -- with many thousands attending.
Holwick isn’t alone. Friendships from a Facebook group have grown beyond the screen. Jenn Hoffman and Erica Bernhard, co-organizers for the event, will be by her side. I had the opportunity to speak with all of them via Google Hangouts, where they squeezed together in front of the screen, sharing their experiences with feminism and this new attempt at grassroots activism.
GRLCVLT is a place where all three women finally feel at home.
Holwick says, “The group really made sense to me, because having been raised by women it was nice to be surrounded by them again….When you go to school, even if you’re raised in a feminist household, you’re taught that to be the ‘special girl’ you have to be the smart girl, the cool girl, you have to be different from the other girls. You learn that from your peers. That’s really insidious and emblematic of the patriarchy. It basically teaches girls to push each other down before men even get to us...Being in the group I realized we are all smart, we are all capable, we are all the special girl.”
Bernhard begins an anecdote about how women in the group have supported one another, ”One of the girls-,” she catches herself, and looks from Holwick to Hoffman, finishing abruptly, “Maybe I shouldn’t tell this story.”
It’s easy to forget that GRLCVLT is essentially a secret society. Begun in L.A. around 2012, the New York version has been growing under Holwick’s hand since 2014, though she says she is one of eight moderators. To be admitted, a member must nominate you and a second member must vouch for your character, essentially. The group espouses intersectional feminism, with an emphasis on diversity. When asked about how these sorts of nominations are made, Bernhard says, “If you invite someone, you invite that girl in your life who is that conscious, caring, driven person you would invite to dinner with your parents or have bail you out of jail.”
The allure of a secret group is powerful, and since gaining more public attention, Holwick and other members have been getting inundated with questions about how to sign on. Holwick says, “The fact that we do have a group, and the fact that we do have a community essentially, that we formed online, has been a really powerful tool for transformation in our lives. We get a lot of requests about...’How do I join GRLCVLT?’ We don’t want you to join GRLCVLT, We love our community. It’s about 3,000 women, I don’t want it to get bigger. I don’t want run a 3 million person community, I don’t think that’s right. I do hope to see people forming other communities. This is how you see local leaders rise, they rise amongst people who trust them.”
It’s interesting then, that a Brooklyn event seeks control over local governance across the country, in a county they have no connection to aside from the universal horror at Brock Turner’s story. Hoffman says, “This one is so intensely personal. Every single woman saw the verdict come in guilty, then saw the judge give such a lenient sentence. Every woman I know, whether it’s inside of this group or outside of this group, it was a trigger. ’Oh my god, this happened to me, and this person completely got away with it, and it’s happening again.’ It flipped the switches of women all over the world.”
"I don’t want to run a 3 million person community...I want to see people form their own communities. That's how local leaders rise."
The women say that GRLCVLT has been flooded with stories from members of sexual assault. Holwick says, “Since we’ve announced the event, the number of women in the group who have come out and said, ‘I’ve never told my husband this, I’ve never told me mother, I’ve never told my sister, but this is my story of assault or this is my story of rape,’ has been astounding and terrifying.”
All three echo the words “so terrifying” for a moment, as though mentally reviewing the deluge of posts from their internet sisters.
It is difficult to know, however, how the unseating of Judge Aaron Persky will affect the people in his district, who are very infrequently high-profile Stanford athletes. They are much more commonly poor, disenfranchised, and people of color who will not benefit from a new judge chosen for their aptitude at draconian sentencing. It will also at this point do nothing for the case of Brock Turner. When asked about how setting changes in motion in a distant locale might end up landing such constituencies with harsher punishment, whatever their crime, Holwick responds, “They’re already getting harsher sentences. Try giving them harsher sentences, how do you do it? They’re already carrying the weight of all this on their backs. What we’re focused on is that a white, privileged, educated male got away with raping someone because the judge looked him in the face and saw himself 40 years ago.”
In a country where mass incarceration is the norm, seeing a young white man escape the full obligation of his sentence grates, though it also brings up the question of what we hope imprisonment will do. Can someone be redeemed or ever pay a debt of such magnitude? Holwick says, “I hope so. Who can sit there and hope someone will stay bad forever.”
Hoffman adds, “There’s no reflection so there can’t be rehabilitation. There has to be some kind of taking responsibility.”
GRLCVLT was focused on Persky, but seeing the power of what they can do in just a few days has inspired them to broaden their scope. Holwick says that the eyes of thousands of women are on the law enforcement of America, and they’re not taking it anymore.
“I hope it[the event] sends a secondary message to every judge in the country that this is what will happen if you do not sentence rapists who are convicted to the sentence that we as women are demanding. Because it’s the law. If they do not follow the law, we will make them famous.”
That doesn’t sound like a good thing.
The internet has changed the process of democracy, and Holwick seems to think that’s a wonderful thing, saying, “What is the internet good for except giving a platform to people who haven’t had access to the media before?”
Few victims of sexual assault have the voice that Brock Turner’s anonymous victim has had since her letter from her court case went viral earlier this month. Instead, most victims are on the receiving end of negative messages from society. Holwick says, “This judge proved that she was right to be afraid. And that every woman who didn’t report her rape was right to hide it. And that’s the most incredibly unhealthy, unfair, unsafe thing I can think of, that we have a world full of women walking around, carrying shame and hurt and knowing if they say something their life will get infinitely worse. They’ll have to go through a judicial process that’s long, painful, drawn out, and that ultimately reinforces that they don’t matter.”
GRLCVLT wants women everywhere to know that their voices do matter—even if the group never shows up on your timeline.
Photos by Olivia Jane, Jena Cumbo, Remy Holwick